Barely five months after Kenya won global acclaim for banning plastic bags, enforcement challenges are rolling back the gains.
Gazetted in February last year and effected in August, the ban prohibits the use, manufacture and sale of plastic bags in a bid to reduce pollution evident in choked rivers, farms and emaciated livestock.
However, a spot check by The EastAfrican revealed that plastic bags — believed to be smuggled from outside the country— are back on the market, especially among small traders vending fruits, vegetables, meat, milk and paraffin.
“I was hesitant to use them initially because I was afraid I could get arrested, but everyone has them now,” said James Ndirangu, a butcher in Lower Kabete area on the outskirts of Nairobi.
Across the road, fruit and vegetable vendors are busy packing their products in flat plastic bags as two young men walk out of a nearby shop with groceries packed in the banned carrier bags.
Those found selling, producing or using the banned plastic materials are to be arrested and charged. They risk imprisonment of up to four years, or a fine of between $19,417 and $38,834.
“It’s the trader who is at fault. I’m only buying goods, so I take them in whatever material they’re packed in,” said Dennis Kebut, after buying milk packed in a flat plastic bag.
In Pipeline Estate in the eastern parts of Nairobi, Jack, a snacks trader hands two buns packed in flat plastic bags to a buyer.
“These bags are available,” he says. “You only need to know the right people and be known.”
The EastAfrican has learnt that the bags are being distributed by a network of dealers who only transact with trusted brokers in different parts of the country.
Traders say a pack containing 200 flat bags which initially retailed at between $0.3 and $0.5 now costs $1.5, three times more.
The EastAfrican has also established that the majority of the plastic bags doing rounds in and out of Nairobi are manufactured by a Ugandan company.
The National Environmental Authority (NEMA) admitted that it was aware of the resurgence of plastic bags but could not confirm or deny whether they are indeed being smuggled into the country from Uganda.
NEMA director-general Geoffrey Wahungu said the authority was engaging environmental authorities in Uganda on the matter.
“We are aware of the developments, these are criminals who are trying to test the system. We are prepared to continue enforcing the ban,” said Prof Wahungu, who urged Kenyans to remain vigilant and help stop the use of banned carrier bags.